Silbury Hill was begun sometime between 2500 and 2900 BC. The base of the hill covers 5 1/2 acres
(2.2 ha), and the hill rises some 130 feet (40 metres).
Enigma - according to Websters Dictionary the word means "something hard to understand or explain; a mystery". I don't know if the linguists at Websters were thinking of Silbury Hill when they wrote that definition, but they might well have been, for this mysterious conical hill on the Wiltshire plains near Marlborough, defies all the efforts of modern scientists to discover its purpose.
Aerial view of Silbury Hill
Silbury Hill is the largest human-built mound in Europe. In sheer volume of material it rivals the Great Pyramids of Egypt. It has been estimated that it would have taken a team of 500 men about 15 years to complete Silbury Hill, and then only if they were working continually.
Yet unlike the Great Pyramids, we have no clear idea of the purpose for which Silbury Hill was built. It was assumed by many early investigators that the hill is a massive burial mound, a monument to the colossal ego of some long-dead Neolithic chieftain.
It seems a fair assumption, yet no grave has ever been found at Silbury. Channels have been cut into the hill on several occasions, but nothing resembling a tomb has been found - indeed no human remains of any kind have been discovered at Silbury.
So if it isn't a tomb, what is it? That question has puzzled generations of archaeologists. One of the unproved theories is that it was a form of sun dial, or astronomical observatory, and that at one time it may have had a large pole upon its summit that cast a long shadow across the fields below.
Facts and Figures
Silbury Hill was begun sometime between 2500 and 2900 BC. The base of the hill covers 5 1/2 acres (2.2 ha), and the hill rises some 130 feet (40 metres).
We do know that the Silbury Hill was built in three distinct phases. The first was a mound some 20 feet (5.5 m) high, which was then capped with a covering of chalk rubble. This layer was then built up with a final covering of chalk excavated from the 25 foot deep (7m) ditch which surrounds the base of the hill.
Seeing Silbury Hill for the first time can something of an anticlimax, for it appears without fanfare as you approach along the busy A4, which sweeps by within feet of the hill's base. There is a parking lot at Silbury Hill, just before you reach the monument. It has room for about 20 cars and also room for coaches. Sadly, this is as close as you can (legally) get to the hill, as a fence keeps people at bay.
The hill has been the unfortunate victim of its own popularity, and has suffered erosion from enthusiastic visitors climbing to the peak. There are now signs warning people not to approach the hill, but as there is no supervised access, some people ignore the warning and climb it anyway, causing further erosion.
Just across the A4 from Silbury Hill lies West Kennet Long Barrow, one of the best preserved of the numerous ancient barrows in Wessex. West Kennet can be approached by a path from a pull-by across the A4 from Silbury Hill. And just a few miles away is the Neolithic stone circle of Avebury, one of the most remarkable ancient remains in Britain.
Avebury Stone Circle
Chalk Hill Figures
West Kennet Long Barrow
Old Sarum Hillfort